The best and worst of “Battlestar Galactica”

Here’s my list of the best and worst episodes of the 2003-2009 series “Battlestar Galactica.” For MB’s benefit, I’m going to hide all my spoilers behind a jump this time! But if you are partway through and feel like reading anyways, I have organized the list chronologically by episode, so you can stop whenever you need to.

My take on the best of “Battlestar Galactica:”

The Miniseries

What a way to begin. The future-past realism of the show was established early on – and as a sci-fi-loving physicist, I was hooked the moment I saw those spaceships that move like spaceships, that look like spaceships on the insides. The perfection of the artistry on the sets, most notably CIC. The phenomenal acting. Then the tense drama of the Cylon attacks, which we find out about mostly over the wireless in isolated Colonial ships. Characters’ backstories were established in minimalistic scenes that didn’t explain, they demonstrated. The “tough calls” characters would face throughout the show came hard and fast here. And man, that battle at Ragnar Anchorage just blew me away!

“33”

I can really think of no better way to lead in to the TV series than this episode. In 42 minutes, this show established the harried conditions in the Colonial Fleet, foreshadowing all the problems that the Colonials would be plagued with throughout the first season. Not enough rest. Not enough food. Not enough water. Not enough manpower. Not enough time. Not enough internal security. Not being able to save everyone. The entire first season had such an atmosphere of being on the run, cut off from support, being pushed outside of comfort zones…it was great. Really something I wish the show had managed to keep up.

“Act of Contrition”/”You Can’t Go Home Again”

In these episodes, a character who was, for the miniseries and previous three shows, a stock character – Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, Cocky Fighter Jock – became a completely solid, conflicted individual with complex human motivations and needs. And they contain some of the best acting of the whole series from Edward James Olmos and Katee Sackhoff. I just love the way you can hear more emotion in the way Olmos tightly controls his voice – slipping only slightly – than in any of the times we heard him shout or yell when he delivers the line, “Walk out of this cabin while you still can!”

The last couple minutes of Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Pt. 2″

Aaaaaaah! Boomer shot the Old Man! I never saw it coming! What will they do?!

“Fragged”

The group of Colonials stranded on the surface of Kobol made for a perfect exercise in field leadership techniques. I dig this stuff, as a Civil Air Patrol cadet programs officer – I think someday I may show those scenes to my cadets as a leadership laboratory.

The Pegasus sequence: “Pegasus”/”Resurrection Ship, Pt. 1 and 2”

There was so much heavy stuff in this set of three episodes, which basically made up a 2:15-hour movie. Admiral Cain made the perfect foil for Commander Adama, demonstrating just how close the Colonial Fleet was to sacrificing their morality for survival and military victory back when Roslin convinced Adama to give up the fight in the miniseries. The introduction of the shell-shocked Gina Six gave Baltar (and Tricia Helfer) a chance to explore some radically different characters and events. The Resurrection Ship gave us a major victory against the Cylons – only the third after the tyllium mine and the Basestar over Kobol – complete with awesome battle effects. The cliffhanger scene between Adama/Starbuck and Cain/Fisk was tremendous cinematography – and when the assassinations almost play out, we get to see two obstinate Colonial leaders take a chance to put aside their grievances for another day. Of course, that was cut short – and the prize was Pegasus, which stood for a renewed hope for humanity. For once, they didn’t just hit the Cylons, they profited. And, in the subtle way of “Battlestar Galactica” writing, they gained a moral victory over their baser instincts.

“Exodus, Pt. 1 and 2”

Part 1 was set-up, and then…  Holy frak. Almost immediately into Part 2, we get the scene where Tigh poisons his wife – one of the most heartwrenching things I’ve ever seen on a TV show, because I know that Tigh absolutely believed that it was the right thing to do…and I know that when his last words to Ellen were, “I love you,” he really meant it. And then, as the resistance fighters struggled against Cylon oppressors, the Galactica and Pegasus made ready…but once Adama said, “prepare for turbulence,” I had no idea what I was in for. I definitely jumped off the couch to shout, “yeah!” when the Galactica‘s form appeared in fire high above Tigh’s head. The hope in his and Tyrol’s eyes as they glanced up in the middle of a firefight to witness their home battlestar blasting its Viper wing out of its launch tubes as it plunged down in fiery glory to the rescue…wow. (Big props to the effects guys for the inrush of air after the battlestar jumped out of the atmosphere, leaving a vacant hole!) And then the amazing strength of character Adm. Adama displays when Helo slowly, sadly shakes his head at the jump drive status board, and he looks around at his crew and tells them straightforwardly, “it’s been an honor.” Of course, that was immediately followed by the utter despair of that pullback from Galactica duking it out with four basestars…a pullback that made me lament, “Oh, frak, space is so big…and they are getting hammered.” An amazingly timed pullback, because I had just enough time to say that to myself before a few unexpected shots blasted in from overhead, and the Pegasus stormed in, guns blazing, in a triumphany parody of the opening scene of Star Wars. When Lee sacrificed that ship, it just felt so heroic.

The last 10 minutes of “Crossroads, Pt. 2”

I list this episode entirely for Tigh’s speech in that room with the other three. “My name is Saul Tigh! I am an officer in the Colonial Fleet…whatever else I am. That’s the man I want to be. And if I die today, that’s the man I’ll be!

“The Oath”/”Blood on the Scales”

After the second half of season 4, which felt like it lacked direction and narrative, this sequence gave the characters and their story purpose once again. With Zarek and Gaeta in charge, I felt that the Colonials were under a greater threat than the external one of the Cylons, and that just made the series of “putting-back-the-pieces” scenes that much more powerful. The Old Man proving himself anything but soft as he overpowers a guard with a headbutt, rips the rifle from him, and blasts his backup. Tigh backing up Bill, no matter the consequences. Starbuck coldly gunning down her own mutinous ex-comrades: “I can do this all day. Follow me. Please!” And the ever-growing throng of triumphant Galactica crewmen and women behind Adama as he stalked towards the heart of his ship to reclaim command. When they all came out of this, the season 4.5 stupor ended and the Fleet seemed to have some direction again.

And now, the worst of “Battlestar Galactica,” in my humble personal opinion:

“Maelstrom”

This could have been an episode dealing with post-traumatic stress and its effect on the people in close relationships with a trauma victim. That seemed to be what it was trying for, in at least the first half of the episode – and the Lords of Kobol know just how traumatized Starbuck was. It’s not like she started from solid ground, either. However, it is simply not in Starbuck’s character to just commit suicide. “Galactica” viewers already knew how Starbuck would have approached suicide, as she has been trying for several seasons already. She never goes for certain death. She takes suicidal risks, tempting fate, always happening to come out the other side – but we are never certain of this. And we know that, much as it would pain us, she would have no problem if she died in a crazy stunt. If “Maelstrom” was to be The Episode In Which Kara “Starbuck” Trace Dies, what we should have seen is her upping the ante on the suicidal risks, and going out of her way to take suicidal risks that Adm. Adama and Apollo aren’t okay with. Plus, all the mystical garbage with Leoben seemed to be telling us that to embrace death after trauma is simply another step on a journey: that it’s okay for PTSD sufferrers to kill themselves as a way to get to a point where their stresses somehow fulfill and resolve themselves. Not to mention the fact that, after the finale, we now know that whatever Starbuck came back as, it wasn’t human, so apparently she actually did just commit suicide here.

The present-timeline portions of “Razor”

Seeing Admiral Cain’s character background fleshed out was great – now viewers could understand where she was coming from, even if what she did was unforgivable. We got to see just how close Galactica‘s and Pegasus‘s histories were following the Cylon attack, and just how they diverged. But the “present-day” stuff was terrible! How many times had the writers previously addressed the issue of whether Lee Adama was ready for command? Apollo had proven himself over and over again in the first three seasons of the show. He could roll the hard six. He could make the tough call. He could commit to a course of action. It might not always have been what his father liked, but he made his principles clear and he stuck to his guns when his heart was invested in something. So why, oh why, did we need a movie in which the main dramatic element was the question of whether or not Lee Adama could handle command of a battlestar, with all the responsibilities thereof, and whether or not he could make such a tough choice as to send one of his close friends to her death? The obvious answer to this question was, why not? He’s done it before.

Oh, and aside from the special effects, the integrated webisodes were terrible. Whoever that was they got to play young Bill “Husker” Adama, you could tell the whole time that he was desperately trying to put on an Edward James Olmos voice. And he did not succeed.

Selected parts of the last ten minutes of “Daybreak, Pt. 2”

I think the series should have ended after that pullback from Adama on the hillside with Laura’s grave. No need to harp on anything else. If Ron Moore really wanted, he could have played Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” over the end credits. But the Honda robot montage isn’t what really burns me about the series finale. In an otherwise great episode and capstone of the Galactica‘s journey, that scene with Lee and Kara in a field after Adama takes off with Roslin practically killed the character of Kara Thrace. Because it established, once and for all, that Kara was not human, at least not since “Maelstrom” and potentially not ever. The reason why this is so terrible is that Kara was such a great source of human drama – both in her own psyche and in her tumultuous relationships with others. Now that I know post-“Maelstrom” Starbuck was not human but rather some agency of a supernatural power, I don’t care about any of the fourth-season drama where she’s trying to figure out what she knows about Earth and the future of mankind. Because she’s the agent of a supernatural power, so obviously she either already knows everything she’s trying to “figure out” or she will know at the appropriate time. And I don’t care about her relationships with the other characters as much, either. Lee or Sam? Bah, she’s an angel, both are screwed. I mentioned earlier how powerful the scene where she coldly shoots her pilot brethren in “Blood on the Scales” was for me. But now? Why should she care about them, she’s not human – of course she does anything necessary to get humanity moving again, that’s what this supernatural thing is guiding her to do. She has no free will any more, no agency of her own. And that was a terrible thing to do to a character. Particularly right after Adama mysteriously decided to go away for the rest of time, and poor Lee gets stuck hanging out with Romo Lampkin for the rest of his days. Maybe he can visit Helo and Sharon occasionally when he takes a break from all his exploring.

Well, that’s it from me. “Galactica” has been great.

“She will not fail us, if we do not fail her. If we succeed in our mission, Galactica will bring us home. If we don’t…it doesn’t matter anyway.

“Action stations!

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3 Responses to The best and worst of “Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Mike says:

    You nailed it with your thought provoking analysis of what worked and what didn’t with the BSG series. Sad to say I was instantly hooked by the first half, but by the second half, I thought I was watching LOST episodes, Yes there were some good episodes punctuated here and there, but the finale was a big disappointment in my opinion.

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